Marijuana Use as Scapegoat in Case of Sandra Bland

Over the last several years, our nation has been wracked with stories of racial discrimination. From Trayvon Martin to Eric Garner, it seems as if the United States cannot go more than a few months without a tragedy evoking racial tension.

Walking hand-in-hand with this heartbreaking narrative is an alarming trend of using marijuana as a scapegoat for these tragic incidences, hearkening back to the bygone days of “Reefer Madness.”

The most recent of these shameful episodes is the narrative surrounding the case of Sandra Bland. For those of you that have not been following the news, Sandra Bland was an African-American woman that was found dead of an apparent suicide in her Texas jail cell three days after she was arrested for failing to use a turn signal.

In the days that followed, there have been countless speculations about what led to her tragic death, but one pernicious fact that has been trotted through the media is a toxicology report that shows that Bland had marijuana in her system at the time of death.

According to Fox News, Bland’s THC blood level was 18 micrograms per liter. To many, this would suggest Bland consumed marijuana while in jail, which could be possible. However, like many other cases involving minorities, the media miss the question of how Bland could have acquired and used marijuana in police custody, instead focusing on the salacious headline that she was high.

“[Bland’s marijuana use] may be relevant as to her state of mind to determine what happened on the street,” prosecutor Warren Diepraam told the Associated Press. “It may be relevant to her state of mind to determine how or why she committed suicide.”

Time and time again prosecutors have used the idea that marijuana is the real culprit in tragic circumstances, and not the actual people involved.

During the Trayvon Martin trial, the judge allowed evidence to be admitted that showed Martin had marijuana in his system at the time of death, arguing that “we just don’t know” what effect that may have had on Martin’s actions.

In the Michael Brown case, the same tactic was used. One article in The Washington Post went so far as to suggest that “levels in Brown’s body may have been high enough to trigger hallucinations.” Browns THC blood level was 12 nanograms per milliliter. Considering the fact that one’s blood level can temporarily spike to 100 nanograms per milliliter while consuming marijuana and that consistent users typically have higher blood levels, such speculative arguments could be considered dubious.

Regardless of where you stand in the race debate, regardless of whether you shout “Black Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter,” marijuana should not be a scapegoat to tragedy.

To imply that smoking marijuana makes you violent, psychotic, or suicidal is to take a step back into the past where marijuana and minorities were maligned as dangerous threats to the American way of life—a direction that the nation should take great effort to avoid.

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